The Berlin native was dismissed as a lightweight when she hosted a breezy morning program before launching Berlin Mitte in October, 1999. Yet Illner proved herself a match for Germany's political class, always managing to rein in overly talkative or aggressive politicians. "That's not what I wanted to know!" she will say, or "Shall I remind you what the question was?" when too many barbs are launched. She strives to keep the proceedings from getting deadly serious. "Politics shouldn't be painful," she says. In her hands, they are primetime entertainment: A one-on-one with Schr?der attracted 3.5 million viewers.
Illner admits she's a bit surprised that a graduate of an East German journalism school should help set the agenda in united Germany. Yet her upbringing in a tightly controlled society gives her a greater appreciation for democracy and helps her avoid the cynicism that marks so much of political journalism. "The things I ask about really interest me," she says. And almost 3 million other Germans as well.